Two days in Telluride
TELLURIDE, Colorado A gentleman clothed in ski attire from head to ski boots precariously pedaled a bright-red cruiser bike down a snowpacked street in Telluride, a pair of skis slung across his shoulder. His steady pace showed this wasnt the first time hed biked to or from the slopes.
In the block beyond stands an old, stone building bearing slogans on the side, such as Brainwashed daily by CNN & FOX and At least we still have our civil rights in Telluride with but not our property rights scrawled in different handwriting underneath. Beside this building is the much-chuckled-at restaurant Baked in Telluride. This town is an authentic ski town. Telluride and its 100-plus years of history feel real, far from sterile or contrived.
Telluride is a trek at 4-and-a-half hours and a little more than 260 miles southwest of Vail, but the trip is well worth it. The late-1800s town was built upon the wealth from gold and silver painstakingly pulled from the surrounding San Juan Mountains. In just longer than 100 years, the town has transformed from a sleepy mining town with a few rowdy spots to a popular ski resort. Speaking of rowdy, Butch Cassidys first bank robbery took place at the San Miguel Valley Bank in 1889 and netted him more than $24,000. Nestled beneath some of the states tallest peaks, the 8,750-foot-elevation town is full of hardcore skiers and their dogs, distinctive restaurants and bars. Brightly painted Victorians with skis planted in the snow outside the front doors line the streets. Shops and galleries selling everything from $400 jeans and fur coats to fishing flies and contemporary jewelry are prevalent along Colorado Avenue, the main street. The gondola connects Telluride with the newer Mountain Village, which is located just over the ridge from Telluride.
At dusk we wound our way along the one paved road leading into the box canyon Tellurides nestled in. The New Sheridan, our hotel for the weekend, wasnt hard to find its right next to the courthouse along the towns main drag. The 32-room boutique charmer is over 100 years old and boasts a storied guest list, including three-times unsuccessful presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, Jimmy Stewart and Arlo Guthrie. The name of the hotel has an interesting story behind it, too. The original Sheridan Hotel burned down in the early 1890s and its replacement brick building was built in 1895, thus the New moniker. Black and white photos of old-time miners line the walls in the hallways and rooms. Our third floor room, decorated with Victorian-era antiques, velvet-topped chairs and an elaborate solid-wood bed, overlooked main street. The two roof top hot tubs beckon sore-muscled skiers and snowboarders. Theres a cozy library adjacent to the lobby, equipped with a computer, free coffee, hot chocolate, cider, tea and freshly baked cookies. The rooms, which average $250 a night in the winter and $175 a night in the summer, include a continental breakfast with fruit, cereal, coffee, juice and a hot entree each morning scrambled eggs with biscuits and a slightly spicy sausage gravy when we were there.
The lobby and front desk of the New Sheridan is couched between the hotel restaurant, the Chop House, and the historic bar, both of which are worth a visit. Our first night we ate dinner at the Chop House. A deep magenta and stainless steel kitchen is open at the back of the intimate, warmly lit restaurant, giving diners a peek at the action. We started with the blue lump crab cake ($15) appetizer. The sweetness in the Asian pear and pineapple chutney pairs nicely with the spiciness of the mostly-crab cake. We ordered the Colorado lamb T-bone ($36), served with chevre, parmesean and herb risotto and rustic olive tapenade and the red wine braised short rib ($32) with garlic creamed spinach and thick, tempura-battered onion rings. Our waiter, Chris, made a show of serving the shortrib sans knife for good reason the meat was so tender it fell apart at the touch of my fork. Tempted by Chriss promise of one of the best pastry chefs in town, we ordered dessert a still-warm hazelnut shell housed housechurned fresh berry ice cream topped with godiva chocolate mousse, mint sauce and fresh berries. It was a indulgent end to our meal. After a visit to the roof-top hot tubs, we fell into bed, dreaming of Tellurides steap peaks.
A bluebird day greeted us the next morning. After breakfast, we grabbed our ski gear and headed towards the mountain, just two blocks from the hotel. At the suggestion of a local, we skipped the gondola and got on the classic (read narrow, slightly rickety) two-seater lift next to it. Though you feel like you might fall off for the first three minutes of your ride, you get used to it. Telluride Mountain features 1,700 acres of skiable terrain, 92 trails, and 17 lifts. The mountain top scenery is strikingly different from Vail all sheer mountain peaks and steep drop-offs. The maximum elevation is nearly 12,300 feet but you feel like youre at the top of the world. After spending the morning on the mountain we broke for a quick lunch at Fat Alley BBQ. A chalkboard offers up the menu at the simply decorated, picnic-table style cafe: sandwiches, burgers, vegetarian items and a variety of hickory-smoked meats. Theres also bourbon, sweet tea and a half dozen beers, including Schlitz (we assumed it was more for nostalgia sake than drinking but the thick-waisted counter guy was sporting a sweatshirt that read Schlitz it sticks to your bones). We sprung for the Fat Alley combo ($21) a quarter chicken, two big pork ribs, and two thick beef ribs with a side of crispy fried okra and black beans and spinach and a beer to wash it down. Eight napkins and 15 minutes later a pile of bones was the only thing left. The foods so good its a struggle to pause to wipe the sauce from your mouth.
After a quick nap, we struck out to explore town. I scored a circa-1970 slightly yellowed, dogearred book at the Free Box, a Telluride tradition where residents and workers recycle usable clothing and household items. We wove our way in and out of the shops. In the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art (130 E. Colorado Ave.) we stopped to watch Bruce Gomez, a Denver-based artist, use pastels to paint a scene of the Telluride Valley with whole frost covered Aspen trees.Weve been carrying his work for 21 years, said Hilary Thompson. Thompson owns the gallery, which is the oldest in Telluride, she said. (Bruce) comes in and likes to work in the gallery and meet interested people. Weve already sold that piece he was painting, she said nearly a week later when I called. In The Panhandler, a kitchen shop down the street, we overheard one employee telling another how when skiing a few days earlier shed ducked into the trees only to find an elk bedded down in between a few trunks.
After a margarita at Las Montanas restaurant, we walked the few blocks to 221 South Oak, an elegant bistro inside a pretty Victorian cottage. Chef/owner Eliza Gavin, whose resume includes the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley and Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, has owned the restaurant since 2000. The restaurant seats around 60 or so people and encourages lingering with its warm mustard-hued walls, gallery artwork and soft music. Start with one of Gavins signature dishes: her homemade sausage plate includes spicy pork, duck mushroom, chicken cranberry and a lamb sausage patty ($13). The spicy rock shrimp slaw with ginger fried shrimp, fried capers and a tangy dressing ($13) is excellent, and you cant go wrong with the super tender elk short loin entree ($36). Served with shallot reduction, asparagus and a Vermont cheddar stuffed potato, the meal is perfect after a day (or a few hours) on the slopes. Try a glass of the 2004 Tritono Malbec from Argentina with deep plum, dried cherry and herbal spice flavors alongside (soon to be added to the extensive wine list) for good measure. Some of the restaurants staff has been there longer than Chef Eliza and theyre friendly and quite knowledgeable.
Even after our two-and-a-half hour dinner we hesitated to call it a night. We ducked into the 240-seat Sheridan Opera House, which was built in 1913 by miners as a Vaudeville Theater and cultural center. Denvers soul sister Hazel Miller belted out the last few songs of the night at the 12th annual Beaux Arts Ball Fundraiser. Sticking to the Brazilian Carnival theme, most of the dancing crowd was in costume, wearing everything from bikinis with tutus to boxers with sequin leggings. Even Miller sported a hot pink feather turbin, which towered more than foot above her head. We stopped dancing for a moment, just in time to see two well-drunk girls whod been dancing together, topple to the floor. One girl, wearing a pair of towering peacock feather wings, stood up slowly and with lots of help. Though her feathers were crumpled, she was laughing.High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 748-2984.
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